NBA

Bulls' visit gives Rockets little time to ponder collapse

HOUSTON -- With three losses in their past five home games and veterans lobbing subtle jabs at teammates through traditional media and on social media, perhaps the Chicago Bulls needed the escape that lengthy road trips sometimes provide.

The Bulls opened a six-game road trip in top form on Wednesday night, pounding the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-100, and they move on to a Friday matchup with the Rockets in Houston.

Jimmy Butler (28 points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals) and Dwyane Wade (18 points, seven boards, seven assists) sparked Chicago's rout of Oklahoma City. The Bulls, 23rd in the NBA with an average of 102.1 points per game, scored 73 second-half points and shot 15 of 20 in the third quarter. Wade hit 6 of 7 shots in the period.

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Chicago (25-25) posted 25 assists against just nine turnovers and shot 60.5 percent overall. Given the Bulls' offensive issues and struggles to maintain any sense of positive momentum, the team looked the part of an Eastern Conference contender. While they have hovered within two games of .500 since Dec. 13, the Bulls began this trek with a performance that could inspire a measure of hope.

"I thought we had great recognition," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I really like the way we are sharing the ball right now.

"Biggest thing I wanted to see was us coming out with a great effort, and we did that."

The Rockets, meanwhile, enter the Friday matchup coming off an epic collapse.

Houston (36-17) blew a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead on Thursday night in a 113-108 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Despite the huge cushion, the Rockets scuffled throughout. They were outrebounded by the Hawks 56-38 and shot just 37.6 percent while Atlanta hit 51.8 percent from the floor. After ranking 28th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage in January, Houston made only 13 of 51 (26.7 percent) from behind the arc in their February opener.

"It's the best part of the NBA: There's not a whole lot of time for people to talk about this game," Rockets forward Ryan Anderson said after shooting 4 of 12 and scoring 11 points against Atlanta. "We need to move on and move to the next game. Give it a night and wake up (Friday) refreshed and confident again."

Confidence might be fading for the Rockets, who are in a 5-8 slump following a nine-game winning streak. Beyond their collective collapse from deep, the Rockets haven't reclaimed their stride since their lineup became jumbled when center Clint Capela missed 15 games with a left leg fracture. Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza in particular haven't maintained their early-season shooting strokes.

Rockets guard James Harden finished with 41 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals in the loss to Atlanta. However, what drove Houston to a 31-9 start was the performance of the teammates around him. With that dwindling support, the Rockets appear as vulnerable as they've been at any point this season.

"Mentally we just didn't do a good job, and you know this will leave a mark because this is one of those that are hard to swallow," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "But at the same time, it is one game, and it is what it is and we got a game (Friday). We've got to find our composure and play (Friday)."